20 Top Things to Do in Mexico

Aerial view of the cityscape in Mexico

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In a country that is rich in culture, natural beauty, art, and incredible food, there are many good reasons to visit Mexico—and more than a lifetime of things to do. It's a country that offers adventure on a grand scale, whether to you that means exploring modern luxury resorts on gorgeous beaches or untouched natural reserves near fascinating ruins. There is so much history to be absorbed in colonial and ancient cities as well as colorful festivals and rich cultural traditions that originated with the Mayans, Aztecs, and other prehispanic civilizations. Mexicans are proud of their roots and traditions: It's evident in the way they carry out their daily activities as well as in the way they celebrate important occasions.

Mexico's attractions are so incredibly diverse, that it may be difficult to decide what to do on your vacation. With many scenic backdrops to choose from—from the mountains to the sea and the bustling cities—and many different variations of Mexican cuisine to try along the way, here are some of the best things to do in Mexico.

01 of 20

Experience the Monarch Butterfly Migration

Monarch butterflies resting on a pine branch

Gomez David / Getty Images 

North America is home to one of the world's most wondrous natural annual phenomena. Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico for the winter after traveling thousands of miles across Canada and the United States. At the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, you can pay a visit to these wintering butterflies, who gather on the trees in bunches and flutter around the forest.

You can see the butterflies between November and March, but January and February are the peak months when you can see the most butterflies. The sanctuary has many trails to explore, just be careful not to step on any monarchs.

Address
Michoacán, Mexico
02 of 20

Hike the Copper Canyon

Copper Canyon, Mexico

David McNew / Getty Images

If you're more interested in activities on land, consider exploring the Copper Canyon. Taking its name from the color of the canyon walls, this natural site in the state of Chihuahua is technically a network of six canyons in the Sierra Madre mountains. Wild animals like black bears, pumas, and deer abound in the canyon, as well as over 300 species of birds which will sure to be a delight for birdwatchers.

One of the most popular ways to experience the canyon is via the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway, also called El Chepe. This long-distance passenger train makes the scenic journey through the canyon in 14 to 16 hours, covering over 400 miles and climbing high into the mountains. The must-see sight of the canyon is the Basaseachi Waterfall, Mexico's second-highest waterfall which cascades above the pine trees from its 800-foot crest.

Address
Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico
03 of 20

Snorkel One of the World's Largest Reefs

Beautiful Reef and Sea Life in Cozumel
Brent Durand / Getty Images

The world's second-largest coral reef is just off the Riviera Maya, making it a perfect destination for ​scuba diving or snorkeling. Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are must-dos when visiting any of Mexico's beach destinations, but Cozumel is known as one of the best places to go because 30,000 acres of the reef are protected by a national park. The island also has many all-inclusive resorts, from which you can arrange your dives.

Off-island, you can also dive in the cenotes north of Tulum. The spring-fed Cenote Dos Ojos is made up of two sinkholes that are connected by a long, narrow cavern that you can swim through.

Address
San Miguel de Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico
04 of 20

Celebrate the Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
Gabriel Perez / Getty Images

One of the most famous days in Mexico, the Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, is an annual holiday celebrated between October 31 and November 2. It's a day dedicated to honoring deceased loved ones with festivities held in cemeteries and town squares. The holiday's origins can be traced to the merging of two cultures: the Catholic holiday of All Saint's Day, an influence from Spain, and the prehispanic tradition and belief that the spirits of loved ones can return to the world of the living one day per year.

If you're visiting Mexico in the fall, it's possible to find Day of the Dead celebrations all over the country but the most colorful celebrations take place in the southern states of Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. One of the most elaborate rituals takes place on Patzcuaro Lake on the small island of Janitzio. In Aguascalientes, the Festival of Skulls is a parade dedicated to the beautiful skull motifs that are a prominent part of any Day of the Dead Festival.

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05 of 20

Visit Ancient Sites

Chichen Itza

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Mexico was home to some of the world's great ancient civilizations and they have left behind a wealth of art, artifacts, and places to visit. The Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayas, and Aztecs left their imprint on the land and their cities can be seen throughout Mexico, filling the visitor with wonder. You can visit the Mayan archaeological sites of the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Chichen Itza which is considered one of the wonders of the world. If you find yourself in Mexico City, you shouldn't miss the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztecs, as well as Teotihuacan. Some more fascinating ancient sites in Mexico include Tulum, Cobá, and Monte Alban.

06 of 20

Luxuriate at an All-Inclusive Resort

An elevated view of Mexico, Baja, Cabo San Lucas, resorts on beach

 

Caroline Warren/Getty Images

All-inclusive resorts are popular with vacationers in Mexico. Some are adult-only but others have activities for all family members. You can choose from amenity-filled all-inclusive resorts on the white beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula or head for places like Cabo San Lucas, known for sport fishing and golf resorts.

Families will find something for all ages, kid's clubs, and dining options pleasing even the pickiest of eaters at places like Moon Palace Cancun which has family activities like mini-golf, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and cycling around the resort. Adults can play golf or head to the adults-only pool.

07 of 20

Savor the Food

Shot of mexican food

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

So much more than just tacos, Mexican cuisine is diverse and delicious. A trip to Mexico is the best way to uncover new flavors. You can try different styles of food like tlayudas, a giant grilled tortilla filled with beans and meat, as well as different types of moles—as in guacamole which is really just the tip of the mole iceberg. Tamales, of course, are a favorite that tastes much better in Mexico and if you want to challenge yourself to the spiciest foods Mexico has to offer, order the chiles rellenos, which are stuffed peppers.

Street food is readily available whenever you're in the mood for a snack, from tacos to spicy potato chips and delicious corn in a cup known as elote. Vegetarians don't need to worry, as they will find plenty of tasty options to try in the lexicon of Mexican cuisine as well.

08 of 20

Catch the Urban Vibe in Mexico City

A multitude of photographs from every angle imaginable of the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City's Reforma Avenue

 

Sergio Mendoza Hochmann/Getty Images 

Address
Av. Capitán Carlos León S/N, Peñón de los Baños, Venustiano Carranza, 15620 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Phone +52 55 2482 2400

A good place to start your trip to Mexico is in the nation's capital, a huge, vibrant city, where ancient meets modern. Mexico City's top sights include the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park, containing the most important collection of Mesoamerican artifacts in the world. Another must-see is the Basilica de Guadalupe, located on the hill where the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, appeared to Juan Diego. Inside the Basilica, as pilgrims often make their way to the altar on their knees, you can see the original mantle with her miraculous image on it.

When hunger strikes, head for a great meal at one of the best restaurants in the world, such as Pujol which has one of Mexico's best chefs, Enrique Olvera, at the helm. Another restaurant receiving high accolades in Mexico City is Quintonil, where the fresh produce used in its dishes is often sourced from the chef's own garden.

Mexico City is an excellent destination for travelers on a tight budget, too. There are lots of activities you can do for free such as strolling the parks, going to the zoo, and perusing the markets like the Mercado de la Ciudadela, which has folk art and crafts from all the regions of Mexico.

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09 of 20

Relax on a Mexican Beach

Playa de los muertos

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

Address
77976 Quintana Roo, Mexico

With nearly 6,000 miles (9,330 kilometers) of coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Mexico entices all those who enjoy the sea and sand. Mexico's beaches are very popular among spring breakers, especially in Cancun, but if you want to enjoy a trip away from hordes of college students, you may want to beat the spring break crowds by avoiding college spring break weeks and going to more sedate attractions such as museums and botanical gardens. You could also consider some of the unknown beach destinations in Mexico like the small beach towns on the Costa Maya or Baja California. 

And if you prefer to enjoy your beach time in your birthday suit rather than a bathing suit, Mexico's nude beaches and resorts may interest you. Head to the adults-only Grand Oasis Sens where topless sunbathing is the norm or the over-the-top sexy Temptation Resort in Cancun, an adults-only, all-inclusive resort touted as "The Playground for Grown-Ups." The beach at Zipolite in Oaxaca, where they have an annual Nudist Festival, is more low-key and appeals to backpacker types.

10 of 20

Stay in Colonial Cities

Merida, Mexico

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Mexico's colonial history marked the collision of two very different cultures. This period witnessed great destruction but also gave rise to a flowering of art and architecture. Many cities in Mexico retain their colonial town plan, cobblestone streets, and architecture. You can step into the past on your visit to Mexico by staying in a beautifully restored historic hotel in almost any town. Even beach towns will usually have a historic church and colonial plaza worth seeing.

Many cities have been recognized by UNESCO as part of the heritage of humanity: Guadalajara, the birthplace of mariachi and tequila, Merida known for its vibrant cultural scene in the Yucatan, and Morelia which has elegant buildings made out of pink quarry stone. If you're interested in mining history, Taxco is Mexico's silver capital and a charming colonial town set in the mountains south of Mexico City. If you prefer art and food, Puebla is renowned for its Talavera pottery and it's also the home of the chile en nogada, Mexico's national dish. In the south, Oaxaca is a destination that combines gorgeous colonial architecture with colorful traditions, beautiful handicrafts, and delicious cuisine.

11 of 20

Attend a Ballet Folklorico Performance

BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO!

tuheen ahmmed / 500px / Getty Images 

Mexico City's grand Fine Arts Theater, Palacio de Bellas Artes, is the place to see a performance of the Ballet Folklórico de México, featuring dances in traditional dress from the regions of Mexico. The beautiful theater, completed in 1934, contains murals by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. The event has a long tradition and it has been performed for over six consecutive decades and has toured in 60 countries.

The show takes a tour through Mexico's geography and history with remarkable dancing styles that reflect Mexico's prehispanic, colonial, and revolution-era past. There are typically multiple shows per week, but it's always best to book your ticket in advance.

Address
Av. Juárez S/N, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06050 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Phone +52 528 647 6500
12 of 20

Sip Authentic Tequila

A field of Blue Agave in Jalisco Mexico

 

Matt Mawson/Getty Images

You can get to the source of this agave-based drink in Jalisco where you'll see fields of blue agave. Tequila can only be produced in this region, which besides the state of Jalisco also includes parts of the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. This World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 2006 has a unique natural landscape and cultural traditions. You can see how the agave plant is harvested, how the tequila is made, and also do a tasting.

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13 of 20

Ride at a Guest Ranch

Summertime in PUNTA LOBOS Beach, local people riding horses, Todos Santos, Baja California Sur. MEXICO

Victor Yee/Getty Images

Ride with a guide into the backcountry or kick back at the pool at a luxury ranch and go for an evening horseback ride to see the sunset. Each Mexican guest ranch has its special amenities but what they have in common is that you'll get a chance to go riding.

Ranch vacations at places like Rancho Puesto del Sol, 50 miles north of Mexico City, is an all-inclusive ranch surrounded by three waterfalls and beautiful countryside. On this horseback riding vacation guests enjoy the scenery and riding in an area that has no fences.

Rancho Los Baños (ranch of the springs) is a 30,000-acre working cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, 55 miles south of the Arizona border. While you can relax and get away from it all, this ranch will also give you an authentic cowboy experience as well as provide a beautiful natural area for hiking.

14 of 20

Swim in a Cenote

Woman floating in an open cenote in Tulum, Mexico
jopstock / Getty Images

A cenote is a deep, water-filled sinkhole created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses and reveals the underground river below. A natural pool is created with spring water and rainwater. You'll find cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula where the ground is primarily made up of limestone. And you'll hear tales of the Mayan people using sinkholes as a place for sacrificial rituals, but cenotes are now extremely popular with visitors who come to swim and dive and explore these deep, natural swimming holes. One of the most popular is the Gran Cenote in Tulum located on the road between Tulum and Cobá archaeological sites.

15 of 20

Shop for Silver in Taxco

Taxco de Alarcon -Guerrero - Mexico

 

Isabellaphoto/Getty Images 

Taxco de Alarcon, a beautiful colonial town in the mountains of Guerrero state, is also known as Mexico's silver capital. The quaint cobblestone streets lead you through whitewashed historic buildings and churches. You can find beautiful silver designs in jewelry shops, workshops, and street vendors. For scenery, take the cable car to the Christ of Cerro Atachi where you can enjoy the view of the town and surrounding countryside.

Address
Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico
16 of 20

Listen to Authentic Mariachi Music

Mariachi band

Orbon Alija/Getty Images

 

Mariachi music originated in Guadalajara and it's the best place to hear authentic mariachi music. Guadalajara has an international mariachi competition. When you visit, the traditional place to see and hear Mariachis is at the Plaza de Los Mariachis. Sit at a local cafe, sip a drink and watch the locals choose a mariachi band for their special occasion. Request the song "Guadalajara" so you can have a truly traditional experience. Just know that mariachis charge by the song, so make sure you always have some pesos handy.

Address
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
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17 of 20

Whale Watch in Baja

Humpback Whale breaching in Sea of Cortez, Mexico

elmvilla/Getty Images

Whales head to the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur (BCS) to have their calves and this area is known internationally for the huge cetaceans that visitors can see there. The Sea of Cortez was coined “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau.

The whales you’re most likely to spot in the waters here include gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and whale sharks. But there are times you can see Orca and other species.

Address
Baja California Sur, Mexico
18 of 20

Laugh and Cheer at Lucha Libre Wrestling

Mexican Lucha Libre Wrestlers

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images 

Lucha Libre wrestling is all the rage in Mexico City. You'll see street vendors selling the colorful masks the wrestlers are known for. Lucha Libre involves athletes performing wild antics in a ring and extending the craziness outside the ring and getting the crowd all riled up, too. It's worth seeing this cultural "performance" for a bit of fun. There are three arenas in Mexico City where you can see Lucha Libre but for the uninitiated, taking a tour is the most fun. Tours usually include transportation, your ticket, and possibly some other goodies like shots of tequila and a Lucha Libre mask.

19 of 20

Shop for Handicrafts

Handicrafts souvenirs in Mexico

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Mexico's beautiful handicrafts and folk art are the results of skill and knowledge that have been passed down through generations. Many visitors to Mexico end up with bags twice as heavy on their return trip. There are many things you could buy from silver jewelry to hand-blown glass and hand-woven textiles, but it will depend on the region you're visiting. For example, in Oaxaca, you'll want to look for rugs and textiles while Talavera pottery is the must-bring-home souvenir of Puebla.

20 of 20

Catch a Big One

Marina in Puerto Vallarta

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

With over 6,000 miles of coastline and more than 500 types of fish in Mexican waters, even newbies like to go fishing and can take a charter boat out for some deep-sea fishing. Baja Sur, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta are long-time haunts for sports fishers. The sought-after marlin, huge tuna, and red snapper are plentiful and are likely to make it onto the grill at your fishing-friendly resort. Some resorts, including those on the beach in Los Cabos, help guests do some surf fishing and provide poles, instruction, and even cook the catch.

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Top Things to Do in Mexico